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A healthy rural community for the wealth of the nation



A healthy rural community for the wealth of the nation

Key health issues facing rural communities were identified and prioritised at the inaugural council meeting of the Rural Health Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand (RHĀNZ), held in Auckland last week.

“If we reduce the burden of chronic disease on rural communities they can maintain their productivity and contribute to the economic welfare of New Zealand,” says the newly elected RHĀNZ executive chairperson Dr Jo Scott-Jones.

The council agreed that securing equitable and effective access to health care services – particularly primary health care services - reducing poverty levels and improving health literacy within rural communities are central to achieving this goal. Improving ease of access to services such as after-hours, mental health and maternity are also seen as important underlying factors to address.

The council identified a number of practical steps needed in the next 12 months:

• Research to determine the extent of the shortfall in funding for rural health services in NZ.

• A strategy for healthy rural communities 2013-2018.

• A shared repository of rural health information.

• Strong rural regional networks.

“It was great to see some concrete ways forward were agreed. Bringing together a number of organisations to identify common goals and actions is not easy,” says Dr Scott-Jones.

“ I am really looking forward to our planned conference workshop day in March next year when I hope lots of people from the member organisations will have a chance to debate and develop the work the council will be doing now.”

There was strong recognition by all participants that if RHĀNZ is to be successful in achieving its goals, rural people must have a significant say in the organisation. There also needs to be a greater degree of information sharing and networking between national organisations and government departments if a coordinated rural voice is to become a reality, he says.

RHĀNZ was established in March 2013 and brings together health, social and political agencies with a rural focus to provide a unified voice and resource to help find solutions for the health problems facing rural communities. RHĀNZ defines “rural” and “health” in their broadest sense:

• Rural is any area which is not a main urban area as defined by Statistics NZ; and

• Health is more than the absence of illness. It is a process of engaging social, mental, spiritual and physical well-being. Health is seen as a fundamental resource to the individual, community and to society as a whole and is a basic human right.

Council members were joined in Auckland by representatives from Federated Farmers, Dairy Women NZ, AgResearch, FMG Insurance; Ministry of Health, Ministry of Primary Industries; Rural Support Trusts; Hokianga Health; Southern PHO; Hauraki PHO and individual rural primary and secondary clinicians.

At the conclusion of the meeting Dr Jo Scott-Jones, a rural GP in Opotiki, was elected chairperson through until the 2014 AGM. The next council meeting is scheduled for 5 July, 2013.


Background for media:

Current members of RHĀNZ are: New Zealand Institute of Rural Health; New Zealand Rural Hospital Network Inc; New Zealand Rural General Practice Network Inc; Mobile Health Solutions; Rural Canterbury PHO; The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners; College of Nurses Aotearoa (NZ) Inc; Tararua District Council; Whakatane District Council; Thames-Coromandel District Council; South Waikato District Council; Opotiki District Council; South Wairarapa District Council; Ruapehu District Council; Rural Women New Zealand; Whanganui Community Living Trust.

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